How Can I Tell If My Internet Is Being Throttled?

Slow your roll? More like no. Here’s how to tell if your ISP is to blame for your snail speeds.
woman holding computer and iphone

Tired of buffering icons and websites that take more time to load than your six-year-old takes to get dressed for school?

There’s nothing worse than “Hurry up and wait” when it comes to surfing the interwebs. And if you’re like us, your first thought is if your internet service provider (ISP) is throttling your speed.

But how do you tell if your ISP is to blame for that crawling internet pace? Let’s take a crack at it.

How to tell if your internet is being throttled

You may have already guessed our first recommendation: run a speed test.

But once you’ve run the speed test, how can you use that information to tell if your ISP is on the naughty list? It doesn’t require a computer science degree to tell—here’s how.

1. Run a speed test.

Many ISPs offer speed tests on their sites, but if you’re eyeing those speed tests with a look of distrust, you’re not alone. We recommend using a third-party speed test, like HighSpeedInternet.com, Speedtest.net, or Fast.com (from Netflix), to get a more impartial result.

2. Install a VPN, then run a speed test again.

Next, you’ll want to install a virtual private network (VPN) on your computer. Don’t worry—we’ve picked out a few free and trustworthy ones. Once it’s installed, start up your VPN and run the speed test on the same site again.

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FYI: Here’s why a VPN works

Running a speed test with a VPN on can help pinpoint throttling issues. This is because the VPN acts as a cloak around your network and keeps your ISP from seeing it—which will give a more accurate result

3. Compare your speed test results.

Take a look at your speed test results with and without the VPN. Are they pretty similar? If so, that’s a good thing—it means your ISP is likely not throttling your internet. (But if you still hate surfing in slow motion, skip to step six.)

If your speed is much faster with the VPN than without it, then we hate to break it to you, but your ISP is likely throttling your speed. We recommend giving your ISP a call to see if it can resolve things for you—not all throttling is a result of nefarious corporations.

4. Compare your speed to advertised speeds.

Even if your speed test results match up, are you getting the speed you’re paying for? For example, if you’re paying your ISP for a 100 Mbps plan but your speed test results say you’re drifting along on 85 Mbps, that could be an issue.

Keep in mind most ISPs don’t actually deliver the speeds they advertise. (This is the sad reality of the internet.) But there are a few things you can do about slow speeds. Check out these tips, and if all else fails, call your ISP to find out what they can do too.

5. Find a new ISP.

If you’ve tried all the troubleshooting tips once, twice, even three times and your ISP can’t give your speed a nitro boost, it may be time to switch providers.

We’ve got a few favorite ISPs in our back pocket, plus some picks for gaming and streaming you may like, as well.

ProviderAdvertised PriceDownload speedsLearn more
Verizon Fios$39.99$79.99*100Up to 940 MbpsView Plans
Xfinity Internet$29.99$299.95152000 MbpsView Plans
Frontier FiOS Internet$40$200501000 MbpsView Plans
AT&T Internet$40$50^5100 MbpsView Plans
Viasat Internet$50$150°12100 MbpsView Plans
Data effective 11/19/18. Offers and availability vary by location and are subject to change.
* With Auto Pay for 1 year.
For the first 12 months. Some packages require a 1- or 2-year contract.
For the first 24 months.
^ For the first 12 months with a 1-year agreement.
° For the first 3 months.

Why do ISPs throttle internet speeds?

That’s the question of the year, isn’t it?

Sadly, recent changes to net neutrality laws have made it easier for ISPs to slow your internet browsing or even force certain sites to pay extra for faster connections (a.k.a. paid prioritization).1 Gross, we know.

The other issue you may be facing is a little less daunting and doesn’t require a letter to your state representative. Many ISPs have data caps, and while most of them don’t start fiddling with your speeds until you’ve used 1 TB of data in a billing period, that’s still a cap you can reach—and outgrow.

Depending on the ISP, logging into your account or calling should let you know whether you’ve met or exceeded your data cap. If you find out your preteen’s Fortnite addiction maxes out your data cap every month, you might be able to pay for extra data or even unlimited data. (Or maybe it’s time for them to go play outside?)

Your other option is to switch to an ISP that has no data caps. Frontier, Optimum, and Spectrum are some of our top picks with no limit to your data usage.

ProviderAdvertised PriceDownload speedsLearn more
Frontier FiOS Internet$40$200501000 MbpsView Plans
Optimum Internet$44.99$64.99**200400 MbpsView Plans
Spectrum Internet$44.99**200 MbpsView Plans
Data effective 11/19/18. Offers and availability vary by location and are subject to change.
For the first 24 months.
** For the first 12 months.

Ready to test your internet speed? Give this speed test a go.